Monday, 22 October 2012

you must leeaaarrrrn...

Developing a philosophy is a process that most of us do sub-consciously; the lives we live, the experiences we experience, our innate morals and ethics, and the relationships we develop all help us in this.  Many business leaders, teachers, and politicians develop philosophies as a necessary part of their careers.  ‘Life-coaches’ are now recommending the process of personal philosophy development to their clients; books are being sold; conferences are being sold-out.  Personal philosophy is big-business...

...and while it is a good and useful thing for all, it is a requirement for a coach.

A coach develops a philosophy to help guide their planning.  Without understanding your methodology, how can a coach even begin to put together a program?  How can he justify the program to his athletes once it is developed?  How can he know what to change if something goes wrong?  Justification of a personal or coaching philosophy should be a constant , on-going, and consistent process.  This is the ‘natural’ part of our development as coaches - the part we don’t really cognitively think about, be we do and experience on a daily basis. As well as these daily developments, we should set aside periods of structured justification.  I try to to this at least once a month, and have done it as often as daily, when our strength group used to meet on a daily basis to discuss certain concepts. The process could be just me sitting alone in a coffee shop, and questioning some of the things I do.  Or it could be more formal meetings with athletes, support staff, and other coaches.  Or anything in between...

The biggest systematic part of the evolution of my coaching philosophy occurs once a year during the break between competitive seasons. Each year, as part of my debrief protocol of the season prior, I do a bit of a ‘spring clean’: a large reassessment, where I review the previous year - what went well - what went not so well - why this was so, etc. - and begin to prepare for the upcoming season.  This year, I took it back a couple of steps further, and I studied my justifications of everything within my system - from the most basic to the most complicated. It has been a very enjoyable process, which has allowed me to really zero in on what is important, and led me into more study into the science of philosophy.  

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to write a little about this synthesis process, but today - just a little background on how I feel the philosophy development process seems to work (at least for us coaches):

I see it as a four-step process:

1. Exploration: Without much information or experience, we slowly begin to find our way - taking influences from large varieties of sources and inspirations, we begin to explore many different information avenues, and begin to find which of them we can best use to find our own way.

2. Information: As our passions rise, and our energies soar, we begin to collect information like it’s going out of style.  It is through this early part of our lives and careers where mentors can be especially important in guiding us through what can be an overwhelming process.  Especially in the present age, the amount of information we have available can be intimidating.  It is this step where I feel most coaches get a little lost, and begin to struggle.  Overwhelmed by information, they never really develop a succinct philosophy, and without guiding principles, we have nowhere to turn when things go wrong.  Basically, it becomes an ever-lasting series of ‘blow it up and start agains’.   Conversely, rushing through this step - trying to develop a philosophy without the requisite information is also problematic: this is where we see a lot of average coaches.  Examples are the coaches who cling steadfastly to what they have always done - perhaps what worked for them when they were athletes; dogmatic in their beliefs, but lacking the basic information necessary to convincingly justify their positions.  Our guiding philosophies, at this point, are usually very heavily influenced by others.  Opinions are not strong, and can be quite fluid in form.  We must not be afraid to  experiment freely - it is important that the information we gain is practical; and the most successful in this process are usually the ones that have failed often in their practical application of their principles. 

3. Knowledge: as we develop more breadth to our information base - giving us additional perspectives, we simultaneously begin the process of synthesis.  Some information may not fit with our admittedly malleable philosophies, and we quickly dispose of it.  Through this process, we begin to become knowledgable.  We develop a certain expertise.  Opinions are now predominantly our own, and are usually not borrowed from others.  Our outlines of our programs don’t change much from year to year; details often do, but our methods remain constant.  We don’t change guides half-way up the mountain.

4. Wisdom: As we develop our information base; as we begin the process of information synthesis, we to continue to learn - but a majority of new information comes from subjects outside of our particular area of expertise - where we begin the four-step process again - just in a field that others may not see as necessarily related.  It is this ’lateral thinking’ that gives perspective and breadth to our knowledge, and it is when we begin to synthesize a variety of different subjects together where we develop true wisdom.  We began our careers, and our adult lives, as generalists - not having enough information to have specific opinions on any one topic, we form general opinions on many.  Throughout the course of the development of our philosophies, we became specialists - zeroing in on specific domains - what was important to us, and the impact it had on our lives.  Through this final process, we again become generalists - we acquire sufficient knowledge to be seen as ‘experts’ in a number of domains, and it is how we link these varying domains together that truly define our legacies.


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